This morning, on the way to work, I passed Bob Balaban helping an elderly homeless man on the corner.
And, really, I wasn’t surprised. It seems like something the characters he plays would be likely to do.
That, in turn, reinforces my belief about actors, honed during my years running Cyan Pictures: an actor’s personality ‘in real life’ is usually the average of the characters he or she plays.
That may not hold true in the theater world, where people are willing to suspend disbelief, and actors can further diverge from their actual selves. In a play, if a black guy and a white guy are brothers, we write it off to creative casting; if someone ‘opens a door’ by miming turning and pulling an invisible doorknob, we call it minimalist staging.
But if that happens in a movie, we assume that one of the brothers must be adopted, and that the guy miming opening a door must be nuts. In movies, we’re simply less willing to believe, to diverge from reality. That, I think, constrains much further the range of characters an actor can believably take on. (Unless you’re Meryl Streep.)
Which is all to say, most characters end up only a standard deviation or so away from who an actor actually is. Average those characters out, and, in my experience, you’ve got a pretty good sense of the real person beneath them all.